Well, I think everyone knows that travelling isn’t just all glamour and happy moments. Travelling can be exhausting and brings the one and other challenge you have to get through. The experience I’m sharing with you in this post, was not even a challenge, it was the day where I thought my life would be over… want to know what happened? Read about our ferry experience in the Philippines!
Ciao Siargao Island
Actually the day that later turned out to be one of the worst experiences in our lives started perfectly!
Ville and I just had an amazing breakfast at our accommodation on Siargao Island, a tropical paradise in the Philippines, and packed up our bags to get ready for our next island stop: Cebu. We were excited to explore more of the Philippines and couldn’t wait for this adventure.
Cebu and Siargao have a long distance between each other and the only opportunity to travel between these two is rather by plane (1 hour) or by ferry: the first fast ferry brings you to Surigao, the closest island to Siargao (1,5 hours) from where you have to change to an overnight ferry bringing you to Cebu (8 hours). Because of ecological and financial reasons, we decided to take the ferry (wouldn’t have done that if we knew what was going to happen… :D)
I went to the reception to print out our ferry tickets that we had bought online with ‘Evaristo & Sons‘ on the previous day. A few minutes later we were ready to go, grabbed our backpacks and jumped on the TukTuk that was bringing us to the port from where our fast ferry was leaving at 1 pm. We enjoyed the last ride through the tropical coconut roads in Siargao and said goodbye to this beautiful island.
When we arrived at the port, the first weird thing happened that made the whole situation suspicious. Our TukTuk driver suddenly told us that our ferry wasn’t leaving due to technical problems (he didn’t talk to anyone, he just knew it). The same second we were trying to figure out if that was true information there was a fisherman coming to tell us that the 1 pm ferry wouldn’t leave. Ville and I got a little anxious then, as our connecting ferry was leaving in the evening and there was no way we could miss the first one.
We decided to head towards the company office to check. When we saw 13 other backpackers waiting in the line, some of them really upset arguing with the staff, we knew that something was terribly wrong.
We got scammed
After we talked to the other travellers and to the staff, it turned out that apparently our ferry couldn’t leave due to technical problems, which of course, can always happen but there were some weird things about this whole situation:
- The company refused to give us back the money and refused to organize an alternative way for us, like a replacing ferry or transferring us to another company. They only told us to catch the next ferry on the following day even though the company knew that we all had connecting flights or ferries, so that this wouldn’t be an option for anyone.
- There were several fishermen around the whole time trying to sell us tickets to take one of their tiny fisher boats instead, for a ridiculously high price! I think everyone can imagine the difference between a fast ferry and a tiny fisher boat on a level of safety and comfort… let alone that we were 13 travellers, each with their own luggage.
Because staying longer in Siargao wasn’t an option for any of us, we didn’t really have an option instead of negotiating for a reasonable price. It took 2 hours to find a solution until we could argue to get a refund for our original tickets and almost pay the double for a way less convenient option on a fisher boat. Well, the guys surely made a profit out of that…
The first Shock
All together we walked for 30 minutes to where the fisher boat was waiting for us. The guys had told us the boat could only depart outside of the official port area (definitely enough proof for this action being totally illegal).
When I saw the tiny fisher boat my jaw dropped. How should 13 people with all their luggage fit inside? And how were we supposed to cross OPEN OCEAN with this tiny boat? The fishermen finally shared the info that needed 4 hours instead of 1,5 hours, as the small boat was not as fast as the ferry. Meanwhile, I couldn’t ignore the bad feeling that took over my stomach: my intuition told me to step back, not care about the money we’ve already spent and just wait one more day. But I didn’t and that surely turned out to be a big lesson!
The very beginning after boarding the boat.
➳ Sorry guys, I only have a couple of photos of this whole experience (screenshotted from my Instagram Story), I honestly didn’t have a mind for holding on to that moment by taking photos… 😀
Before the storm
One hour later we all sat squeezed in a row, our luggage to our feet in the boat. Everyone’s mood was kind of down, the boat was too full, people worried and stressed about the whole situation. But hey, we are backpackers and what would be a trip without some good vibes?? We got to know each other better and found out we were really international: from Israel, Germany, UK and some others I don’t remember anymore. There was a couple with their small cute puppy too at the end of the row. A few guys started playing some music and we all tried to make the best out of the situation by singing together and sharing a whisky bottle. 😀
When the boat was just about to leave, the weather suddenly changed. It started raining first, grey clouds covering the sky. I already thought that the clouds looked more like a black monster growing bigger and GREAT, we headed straight into their direction. I looked back at the houses on Siargao that turned smaller from second to second and just hoped that mother nature wouldn’t bring a storm.
On open ocean
One hour later we had reached the estuary leading towards the open ocean. We were all happy together still singing and tried to stay dry while the wind was getting stronger blowing the rain inside the boat. My jacket was soaked within minutes and the girl at the end of the boat was trying to cover her puppy with her jacket. I was getting cold, but hey it was just 3 more hours right?!
It took us only a few minutes until we realized what kind of situation we got in to. The wind was blowing so hard that the waves in front of us were no longer just small ones, but won at least the double size, what started to make me feel scared as f***. The good vibes on the boat were long gone, everyone was swearing the weather, praying that our things would get out of all this alive, which would later be our smallest concern…
At the limit
It was when the first wave crashed inside our boat that I truly realized: this was not good at all. The water ran inside our boat, soaking up our backpacks and building big puddles on the floor. Everyone’s feet were wet and the waves just didn’t stop coming in. I watched the side of the boat getting closer to the edge of the water and already created the worst-case scenarios in my head: the boat sinking, us lost in the ocean and nobody around to help us.
My panic attack started when the next wave hit our boat so hard that the boat’s outriggers (made of bamboo to support and stabilize the boat) broke into half and the fishermen’s face changed to pure panic.
I suddenly started screaming, crying, shaking all over my body afraid our lives would be over in a few minutes. Ville took me in his arms trying to calm me down while I told him over a million times that I loved him (mentally saying goodbye to my life) while the couple next to us went through a similar scenario.
I’ve never had a panic attack until that day when I felt so helpless, my whole body telling me to somehow get out of this situation, but there was just no way.
I could be so lucky that I had Ville and some very calm travellers on the boat (that later told us, inside they were scared as sh**), that supported everyone.
There was a german girl that was super cute, holding my hand trying to calm me down. Another guy started to pull out the life vests handing one to each of us. We all put them on, even though I knew that this cheap life vest with several holes in it would probably not help me anymore. My brain suddenly had the glorious idea to take off my shoes and socks to make myself as light as possible, just in case our boat was going down so that I could have more strength staying over water…
All that I wanted was just to go somewhere on land, waiting until the storm would pass. We tried to talk to the fishermen if there was an option for that, but he made clear that this was too dangerous: there were coral reefs all over and if we changed directions, the boat would probably crash on them and there would not be any chance of getting out safely.
The only thing we could do was just sitting tight, floating with the waves bringing us metre by metre to our destination and pray that we would make it out alive. The funny thing is (I only realized as funny later on because it was really painful at that moment) that I had to pee so badly, maybe because of stress and anxiety all together! My bladder felt like exploding, but I still had to get through this for another few hours.
Alive and happy
It was the longest 2,5 hours in my life until we finally arrived at land. I WAS THE HAPPIEST PERSON IN THIS WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!
You should have seen our faces: they pictured everything from relief to shock, to happiness to gratefulness and just disbelief what we had just experienced. We all were completely wet and frozen but all laughed and hugged each other! It turned out I wasn’t the only one that had a full and painful bladder, so we girls left our wet clothes on and just jumped in the water. It sounds pretty weird now that I’m writing about it, but at that moment literally nothing else mattered but being alive!
By then, the fisherman had already started to shove out all the water with a bucket that had gotten inside the boat. I felt kind of sorry for the guy, who was working with a scam group, having risked his life and only boat just for a few hundreds of more dollars.
Our backpacks were completely soaked in water but Ville and I still had another 8 hour ferry to catch next (you can imagine how busy we were celaning all of our stuff and finally getting some baby sleep when we had ultimately arrived in Cebu).
15 strangers, that didn’t know each other before, suddenly shared one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences. It’s really crazy to see that there truly is a power out there that we have no chance of fighting against. Nature is unpredictable and in 3 years of traveling I have really learned to have respect for that. Being in the middle of an earthquake in New Zealand was one thing, but praying for my life for 3 hours on open water made me feel the smallest I have ever felt.
Another life lesson
So, what do I take out of this?
Always be grateful for your LIFE!
It could be over faster than you think, things you can’t control happen unexpectedly and make you realize that NOW is all we ever have. So, make the most of it! Don’t wait for living your dreams, don’t take your life for granted and never forget to live each day to the fullest.
➳ This is also why we don’t necessarily recommend traveling from Siargao Island to Cebu by ferry like already mentioned in our Philippines Travel Guide! Avoid booking your ticket with Evaristo & Sons. It’s shocking me to see how money can be more worth to people than actual lives, so just make sure you don’t make the same mistake as us and definitely don’t agree on something that seems illegal to you!! Safety always comes first! 🙂
I hope you enjoyed reading about our nightmare ferry experience in the Philippines. It was pretty scary, but has also taught me so much! Have you ever experienced a natural disaster? Would love to hear about it below!